Thursday, April 23, 2009

Return of the Grammar Nazi

Among recent offending examples, are the following--


"That said...."  So many people are using this pat transition or bridge phrase, or, rather, overusing it, that it's become irritating. It's most often used by speakers wishing to appear earnest or filled with conviction. But it becomes a habit. The speaker will make a not particularly important statement, then drop in "that said..." and keep going, as if to qualify (or set off) the preceding phrase, or to indicate a succeeding comparison. Ultimately, it's a stupid phrase which ought to be jettisoned out of speech. 

"Duh!"  This non-word exclamation is being used by everyone these days. It's intended to signify frustration with an assertion or action of another, usually to show that the assertion is either naive, or too obvious. But, like all non-specific exclamations, it's used indiscriminately, and hence doesn't really mean much. Uneducated or lazy speakers--Valley Girls, anyone?--will use it so frequently that it becomes almost a refrain or lament. "And then I'm, like, duhhh! Like what's that to me? Totally tubular, dude!" Fur sure! Heathers and Debbies of the world, unite!






          

11 comments:

Georgie said...
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Curtis Faville said...

The authority on what constitutes a word is not carved in stone.

Who, after all, decides when a word is a "word" and when it isn't?

When I was a kid, we used to say "duh" to each other, but it wasn't, in those days, a slang term that had any actual meaning. It was just an exclamation signifying moronic inarticulateness. I think, despite its later spin, it's still a vague, nearly vacuous non-word, and should be returned to its former status, or dispensed with altogether.

Bad coinages aren't the same as good ones. They break down literacy and lead to imprecise thought and expression.

Kirk Johnson said...

But aren't naïveté or banality themselves, um, relatively nonspecific assertions? And hence subject to a necessary discrimination. That one might, were one agile enough, inflect with a certain perhaps plaintive degree of specificity--

Duh!

or

Duh!

so to speak.

I had a friend in his twenties who could ring so many quite articulate changes on the bare syllable "Dude!" that anything but frustration followed. Quite lucid degrees of mild and enthusiastic recognition, astonishment, agreement, disdain, caution, doubt... discrimination was so entirely (educably, diligently) the point.

Curtis Faville said...

Quite well put, Kirk, and how could I disagree?

What you're reporting here is the intonation and tonal variation specific to language(s). Chinese, as I am given to understand, has a vast range of such variations, with subtle vowel slants signifying quite different meanings.

I tend to think it isn't the word itself (as with, here, "dude") that contains the various meanings, but the spins the speaker puts on it through pronunciation. A rising voice usually signals interrogation, whereas a falling one signifies certainty, or declaration, and an arc of rising and falling can mean irony, and so on. But these effects can easily be applied to any word--it's just coincidence that you associate them with the word ("dude").

Kirk Johnson said...

No doubt, intonation and tone were the instruments employed. But "Dude!" near-invariably occurs in interlocution, and this deictic element gives the word a color all its own. Something Buber-ish (or should it be Buber-esque?) about it. Perhaps a bit like the "Abraham! Abraham!" the angel of the lord utters, yes? "Dude! Dude!"

Of course, anyone's name might be worked to a comparable range. ("Curtis!" with astonishment, "Curtis!" with irony, etc.) But the reduction of the individual to its generic has a certain effacing pathos of its own. Despite our pretensions (our duding up) we end up, as Lear notes, dressed down to the thing itself, the poor, bare, fork'd, unaccommodated dude.

Now I suppose one might manage something of the same intonation with a "Table!" "Chair!" or the like. But I suspect, not coincidentally, the effect would be other, and likely less.

Georgie said...
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Curtis Faville said...

Think of Steve Martin saying "Well, pardon me!!!"

How many different ways are there to say something?

Doubtless, dude is one of those words that acquire shadings and implications well beyond its intended denotation--one which I guess originated in a sub-cultural milieu (context)--then was appropriated for a wider, "camp" (?) purpose. Was "dude" the rhinestone cowboy of post-Modernism? The hermaphroditic extra wandering onto the shooting set of the latest Coen Brothers extravaganza?

Damned if I know.

Curtis Faville said...

Not all words are "articulate" unless you count every syllable or slur from the human tongue. I stand with Johnson.

Larry McMurtry's "Johnson" notwithstanding.

Georgie said...
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Kirk Johnson said...

Or, as the Dude might put it: the slur abides.

Curtis Faville said...

There's a great line in one of Creeley's essays in A Quick Graph, something like--in the middle of a perfectly serious sentence--"I slur here..."--sort of like stepping on a syntactical banana, then deliberately excusing it.